Weight loss is one of the most popular topics at MyFitnessPal — and we’re here to help. For starters, you’ve got to believe in yourself and realize losing weight requires small changes you can stick to so they build up over time, eventually leading to a healthier lifestyle and a trimmer you.
Calories in minus calories out: That’s the simple, age-old equation for creating a calorie deficit to lose weight. Burn more calories than you consume and you’ll lose weight, right? If only it were that easy!
The key to creating a calorie deficit is to burn a little more (or eat a little less) than your body requires for weight maintenance. The calories burned through exercise + non-exercise activity + basal metabolic rate need to be more than the calories consumed through food to produce weight loss. In general, you’ll need to create a deficit of 250–500 calories per day to lose 1/2 to 1 pound per week.
Since your basal metabolic rate (the calories you burn at rest) accounts for 60–70% of the calories burned throughout the day, it’s important to calculate that as a starting point if you’re wanting to create a deficit. How much your body burns at rest depends on many variables such as genetics, age, hormones and muscle mass. See our Essential Guide to Your Metabolism for starters.
Now you know about creating a calorie deficit; let’s talk about how to achieve it. There are two ways to lose weight: changing what you consume and changing how you move. Most people find a combination of the two leads to the most effective weight loss.
1. Change What You Eat and Drink
Reducing how much you eat and turning to more healthful foods are the prime directives for anyone looking to lose weight. To get started, check out our Essential Guide to Healthy Eating. That said, if you don’t just want to eat healthy, but want to lose weight, you’ll want to consider these five tips as well:
- Track What You Eat
What you put into your body makes a difference in your health and your weight. That slice of banana bread at the bakery looks divine. But choosing it over a banana adds more than just extra calories — you’ll be piling on more unhealthy fats and added sugar. As you track your intake, you get the bigger picture of what your food contains: carbs, fats, proteins, fiber, vitamins and minerals. To get the biggest nutritional bang for your calorie buck and create a bigger calorie deficit, consume the majority of your calories from unprocessed, whole foods. Learn more about how a calorie isn’t just a calorie. While it’s important to be as accurate as you can with food tracking when trying to create a calorie deficit, don’t lose your mind in the process. It gets easier with practice. Stick with it: Logging your food consistently (even if it’s not perfect) is one of the most effective ways to lose weight. Having trouble? Learn to count calories without making yourself crazy.
- Drink Water
Hydration is important for everyone, but it can also be a key component of your weight-loss efforts. In addition to keeping your body’s engine burning, water helps to stave off hunger: The more you drink, the less room you have for consuming calories. Not convinced? See 4 Ways Water Helps with Weight Loss and then learn about the science behind why water is good for weight loss.
- Skip Soda
Added sugars — sweeteners added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared — are little more than empty calories that can lead to weight gain and even obesity, which increases the risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Soda is one of the leading contributors of added sugars in the diet, along with cakes, pies, ice cream and even breakfast bars and cereal. Get tips for kicking your soda habit with this article on avoiding added sugar. Check out our Essential Guide to Sugar.
- Plan Your Meals
Planning healthy meals ahead of time is one of the easiest things you can do to set yourself up for successful weight loss. It not only curbs the last-minute pizza delivery and fast-food drive-thru but will also help you save time, calories and money. It might even inspire you to introduce new meals into your daily routine. Find out why it’s easier than you may think at with our Essential Guide to Meal Planning.
- Practice Mindful Eating
Multitasking while eating — munching in front of the TV, snacking while writing emails or constant “sampling” while cooking — makes it challenging to be aware of what you’re putting in your body. Mindful eating is being aware of the taste, texture, smell and your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Knowing your cues and mastering the art of patience and mindfulness is the secret to losing weight for good and keeping it off. We’ve got 5 tips for practicing mindful eating.
2. Change How You Move
Reducing how many calories you eat is the best way to create a calorie deficit, but working it from the other way — burning more calories — works, too. Plus, regular exercise can boost metabolism, making creating a calorie deficit easier.
To start, try one (or more) of these 10 workouts for weight loss. If you try one and don’t love it, move on to the next until you find something that works best for you and your motivation. One thing that works for lots of people: Do it with a friend.
You may be surprised, but the simple act of walking can be enough to lose weight and get in shape. Walking can help you build fitness and lose weight by helping you create a calorie deficit. Even if you’re a regular exerciser, upping your daily step count through walking increases non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which has been a big area of research because it may be an answer to how body weight is maintained, gained or lost.
One of the classic methods for measuring weight loss is stepping on the scale. While experts are divided as to whether or not you should weigh yourself daily, they agree how you weigh yourself matters. Since your weight fluctuates during the day, it’s best to weigh yourself first thing in the morning after you’ve gone to the bathroom. Whatever time you decide to weigh yourself, the key is to remain consistent. It’s also a good idea to avoid the scale during certain instances (i.e., during your menstrual cycle or when you’re constipated). If seeing a number stresses you out, you can also try a numberless scale that uses colors instead of numbers to illustrate progress. Ultimately, tracking your weight in MyFitnessPal can help you see useful trends over time.
Body mass index (BMI) is a simple calculation of your weight divided by your height, a formula devised in the 1830s by a Belgian mathematician that is still used as a way to categorize people as underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese. However, BMIs don’t necessarily show the full picture because they don’t distinguish between weight versus muscle mass. This means some fit athletes (i.e., NFL running backs) who have a higher weight from more muscle mass, can fall into the overweight or obese category.
3. WAIST-TO-HIP RATIO
To get your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. Since belly fat is a particularly dangerous type of fat, using a WHR calculator provides an indication of your risk level for related health problems, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.
4. BEFORE-AND-AFTER PHOTOS
Depending on the individual, taking before-and-after photos can be a helpful (and motivating) tool for weight loss. If you’d like to document your progress, experts advise embracing the before photo as your starting point (so, ditch the negative self-talk) and make sure to celebrate the wins along the way.
5. OTHER NON-SCALE METHODS
Weight loss is more than just numbers, which is why it’s helpful to find motivating ways to track your success. For example, maybe your clothes feel looser and you feel more confident in them, helping boost self-esteem. Check-in with your energy levels, do you have more spring in your step when chasing your kids around? Other signs of progress include improved mood, greater stamina and better-quality sleep.
It’s easy enough to say eat less, move more, but often more difficult to do. We have a few ideas on how to make it easier:
1. Remove Temptation
If you’re trying to set yourself up for success, keeping donuts and chips around isn’t doing you any favors. Give your pantry and fridge a little makeover to stay on track with your goals. See how to spring clean your pantry and then get back on track with these 5 Ways to Make Your Kitchen an Oasis of Healthy Eating.
2. Stop Eating After Dinner
Late-night noshes are usually high-calorie, large portions or snacky foods (Read: cookies, ice cream, chips and candy) eaten mindlessly out of enjoyment to unwind from the stress of the day. It’s a recipe for weight gain and disaster. Learn what midnight snacking is doing to you.
3. Learn How to Order at Restaurants
Eating out can rack up the calories, so knowing how to make healthy menu swaps is key. Whether you’re dining at your favorite taqueria, steakhouse, Italian trattoria or ordering Chinese takeout, this guide gets you on the right track toward making the healthiest selection. Be smarter at restaurants — but still enjoy yourself.
4. Master Calorie Swaps
Whether it’s swapping hummus for mayo or zucchini noodles in lieu of traditional spaghetti, the calories you save really add up when you’re trying to create a calorie deficit. Here are 10 simple tricks that’ll help: Arm yourself with “hacks” to save calories.
5. Consider Non-scale Victories
Your weight is determined by a variety of factors, including hydration, climate, when you last ate, bathroom habits and exercise. In other words, weight fluctuation is common, and there’s much more to good health than a number on a scale. Here’s why you should stop weighing yourself every day and how to figure out a scale schedule that works for you.
6. Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep is undervalued. Getting enough quality sleep is holistically tied to your health and weight-loss goals. Sleep offers our bodies a chance at restoration and rejuvenation. When we’re sleep-deprived, we tend to eat more, exercise less and make poor food choices. Here are the hows and whys behind our need for sleep, along with five tips on how to get a better-quality dose of those cherished zzz’s.
Get right back on track as soon as you can. We get it, we all fall off the wagon sometimes. It’s OK — what’s more important is understanding why you blew it and getting back on track. Try, fail and adjust … it’s a journey.